By Brendan Swift

Digital cinema provider Edge Digital Technology plans to negotiate the terms of the proposed virtual print fee (VPF) with the major studios on behalf of independent cinema owners.

However, the Amalgamated Holdings-owned company is working outside the auspices of the independents' major representative group, the Independent Cinemas Association of Australia (ICAA), which is understood to be well advanced in its own negotiations.

The VPF is a fee paid by distributors to exhibitors (or third parties such as system integrators) to fund cinema conversions to 3D digital screens. It is intended to be a more equitable way of upgrading cinemas, with distributors saving substantial amounts of money by producing digital prints rather than 35mm prints.

Edge Digital Technology general manager Peter Williams said the company was not yet representing specific independent cinema owners. "We want to put it out there that there are alternatives in the marketplace," he said.

ICAA chief executive Mark Sarfaty said the independent association, which represents nearly 650 screens across Australia and New Zealand, is in advanced VPF discussions and is close to completing an agreement with three out of the four major studios.

"I find it curious that a wholly-owned subsidiary of Amalgamated Holdings, which owns Greater Union cinemas, would make this proposal at such a late stage when ICAA is so far advanced and is effectively representing the best interests of independent cinemas in Australia and New Zealand," Sarfaty said.

Williams said he did not believe that Edge's ownership represented a conflict of interest. "Edge Digital Technology or its predecessors… has always been involved in the independent market in Australia and New Zealand," he said.

Edge Digital Technology said it has installed over 300 digital cinema and 3D systems across Australia.

The major exhibitors and distributors are understood to have completed their VPF agremeents although no official announcement has been made.

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